Silent Night

Sunday, December 20, 2015
Dressed in shepherd's tunic, ready for the show!

"Silent night, Holy night,
All is calm, all is bright."
- from "Silent Night," by Joseph Mohr

Five days before Christmas. The gifts are bought and wrapped, the house is ready. This morning we went to the church where our oldest daughter teaches, to see the pageant she helped lead.  We are so happy to see her involved in the church doing what she loves most, working with young people.

The pageant was unique and lovely. The young musicians were supremely talented, and the donkey on wheels was a sight to behold. I've never seen the baby in the manger climb out and wander into the congregation in search of a beloved doll before. But some things never change: it wouldn't be a Sunday School pageant without a disconsolate baby wailing throughout the singing of "Silent Night."

Five days before Christmas - a good time to reflect on the nearly-finished year. I hope the past twelve months have brought you many blessings, and the opportunity to offer blessings to others. May you find peace on Christmas day, and every day.

"Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace."
- from "Silent Night" 

Inside these wrappings

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"Aren't we enlarged
by the scale of what we're able
to desire? Everything,
the choir insists,

might flame;
inside these wrappings
burns another, brighter life,
quickened, now,

by song: hear how
it cascades, in overlapping,
lapidary waves of praise? Still time.
Still time to change."

- from "Messiah (Christmas Portions)," by Mark Doty

This poem was a perfect match for our church service this afternoon, which was a celebration of Christmas music. With organ, piano, trumpet, horn, trombone, flute, a bell choir and three vocal choirs, we sang anthems like "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," and heard performances of "Rise Up and Follow that Star" and "O Holy Night." It was inspiring and beautiful.

My only difficulty was finding a recipe that was sufficiently glorious to match the music and the poem. As always, I'm a few recipes ahead, but none of them seemed quite noble enough to merit comparison to Handel's Messiah.

So my answer was to post a recipe for ... popcorn?

Perhaps there are more than six degrees of separation between George Frederick Handel and Orville Redenbacher. But this is a terrific recipe, with sweet from the caramel, savoury from the peanuts and pretzels, and a dash of the unexpected from the cayenne pepper. It may not be messianic, but it's one crackerjack treat.

Spicy Maple Kettle Corn
(from In The Kitchen with Stefano Faita)


8 cups popped popcorn
1 1/2 cups roasted peanuts (unsalted)
1 1/2 cups pretzels
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup butter (unsalted)
sea salt or kosher salt, to taste
cayenne, to taste

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a large baking sheet or roasting pan with parchment paper.

Combine popcorn, peanuts and pretzels in large bowl and set aside.

Over medium heat, bring maple syrup and corn syrup to a boil and cook to soft ball stage (240 degrees). Add butter, salt and cayenne pepper.

Carefully pour the maple caramel mixture over popcorn and toss with wooden spoon or tongs to combine. Bake, turning every 8 to 10 minutes, until caramel hardens on popcorn, about 30 minutes.

Let cool completely. Store in airtight container.

A Long December

Sunday, December 6, 2015
"I can't remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass.
And it's one more day up in the canyon
And it's one more night in Hollywood
It's been so long since I've seen the ocean .. I guess I should."

- from "A Long December" by the Counting Crows

I love this song by the Counting Crows, but this December doesn't seem particularly long - like most Decembers, it will likely pass in a heartbeat. I'd love to know how I can slow the passage of the next few weeks so I have time to enjoy everything I love about the month.

I haven't figured out how to slow time down, but it felt like I did when I prepared these slow-cooker baked apples. They're the best baked apples I've ever eaten. I think it was the low heat and the long baking time that cooked them to a tender perfection - and lent my kitchen a wonderful spicy aroma in the process. The first time I made them, I skipped the step about peeling the skin off the top of the apple (which I later realized was intended to keep them from bursting). That first batch was delicious but unphotographable, and I knew I'd have to make them again to post them on the blog. I've never been so happy to have a recipe fail!

Baked Apples with Cider Butter Sauce

6 apples
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries or raisins
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 cup apple cider
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2 tsp cornstarch

Core each apple almost to bottom, leaving base intact. Slice off 3/4 inch wide strip of peel around hole at top, and score through the skin halfway down, all the way around the apple. (These prevent the apple from bursting.)

In bowl, combine brown sugar, dried cherries, cinnamon and nutmeg; pack into apples. Place in 4- to 5- quart slow cooker. Whisk together apple cider and butter; pour over apples.

Cover and cook on low, basting several times, until tender, about 3 to 4 hours. Transfer apples to shallow serving dish and keep warm.

Whisk cornstarch with 1 Tbsp cold water; whisk into liquid in slow cooker. Cover and cook on high until sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes.

Serve warm with ice cream.